“Don’t just count your years, make your years count.” — George Meredith

A decade ago — on September 19, 2007 — I started this blog to document my journey as a PhD student in human and organizational systems at Fielding Graduate University. I envisioned it as a personal journal, academic endeavor, and professional platform. Although I withdrew from Fielding, I continued blogging.

A few years later I launched my website, but this blog was my first form of online expression and it has evolved into the anchor of my social media strategy. This blog has been a tool through which I have shared my story; I will continue doing so indefinitely.

As I begin to discover my PhD potential with the University of Leicester, my PhD plans are again becoming a possibility. Once I begin my program this blog will reflect those experiences along with my adventures in academia.  I look forward to the future with optimism and idealism. The worst is over and the best is yet to come.

Speaking of focusing forward, in the first week of the Discovering Your PhD Potential course I was asked to answer the following question: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? In ten years? (Consider carefully whether doing a PhD will help you to fully achieve this, and if so how?). My answers follow:

In five years I will:

  • Defend my doctoral dissertation and start my first year teaching with my PhD.
  • Apply for a promotion from being an instructor to assistant professor at AUE.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle that brings me comfort, calmness, and confidence.
  • Share my life with a partner who fills my soul with faith, hope, and love.
  • Expand my acting to include commercials and voice over work.

In ten years I will:

  • Publish at least ten papers in high quality journals, five book chapters, and two books about social media marketing, sports management, or my related research interests.
  • Work towards a promotion from associate professor to full professor before I turn 55.
  • Celebrate my sons living happy and healthy lives as they embark on adulthood.
  • Produce five online video courses and appear in a half-dozen podcasts.
  • Enjoy financial stability and the ability to travel at least twice per year.

The past decade has dealt me both unplanned obstacles and unexpected opportunities. Trying yet inspiring experiences have broken me while strengthening me. I have grown as a person and a professional; I am changed for the better, despite the scar tissue. This blog has documented these changes and will continue to serve as reflection of my progression. I am eager to make the most of each moment and invite you to join me on my journey.

How do you identify and achieve your goals?

20130222_Me_@_MYLC_with_Dick Elder
With Theta Chi National President Dick Elder (far left) and another alumnus on Friday, February 22, the evening before my session.

In the video below I am presenting an individual goal setting session at the Mid-Year Leadership Conference of Theta Chi Fraternity at UCLA on Saturday, February 23, 2013.

Having helped found the (dearly departed) UC Santa Barbara chapter of Theta Chi it was an honor to participate in this event as an alumnus instructor. Since my birthday was the day before, it was a great gift to share my knowledge with undergraduate members of an organization I admire.

As an undergraduate I attended several events like this so I was well aware how events like this can positively impact personal growth and professional development. I met with a multitude of motivated undergraduates; their earnest desire to improve themselves and their fraternity was inspiring. Events like this made me proud to be a Theta Chi and grateful to be a teacher.

Of course you don’t have to be a member of Theta Chi — or any other fraternal organization — to appreciate what I shared during my session. It is my hope you find value in my presentation beyond the audience for whom I first prepared it.

I welcome your insights and ideas as well; I am a teacher because I am a lifelong learner. It would be my pleasure to learn from and with you as I did on this day with my undergraduate brothers in Theta Chi!

To recap the content in the video:

  • Why setting your goals is important.
  • Goal setting brainstorming and audience interaction.
  • A personal story about how we undermine our goals.
  • How to focus yourself with help from your colleagues.
  • Why setting your goals (not someone else) is important.
  • A personal story about setting my goals after undergrad.
  • Dealing with parents who try to set your goals for you.
  • What happens when you don’t set goals for yourself.
  • How to set and achieve your goals with your I.D.E.A.

You can also view via Slideshare the presentation I used in the above video:

“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world…”

— The Beatles, Revolution

matthew_gilbert_5

As 2014 draws to a close people start listing resolutions they intend to achieve in 2015. Although well intended, 77% of people who make new year’s resolutions abandon them — many as early as the end of January.

I’ve never been much for making lists of resolutions, though as 2009 started I was inspired by Chris Brogan’s call to list three words that would inspire me and inform my decisions.

Ironically, in the months that followed my life took an unexpected turn that forever changed who I am and how I see the world. My three words were incredibly relevant some of the time, yet totally irrelevant at others. I survived a shock to my system that jarred me out of my comfort zone.

I learned that nothing is certain except the uncertainty of life. Yet, looking back over those five years I also realized something essential to my philosophy of lifelong learning: I evolved. What does that mean?

evolve

If you look at the definition to the left the word that pops out at me is “gradually.” This means change takes time and therefore requires something we all could use more of: patience.

Because most resolutions are transactional they are nearly impossible to achieve unless you precede them with a transformational realignment. If you don’t change how you see yourself and your situation, any short-term goals are doomed to fail because you won’t have an accurate benchmark.

So, with all due respect to The Beatles (see the lyrics to their song Revolution, above), evolution is more realistic than revolution, especially on a personal level.

Am I perfect now? Far from it; I am full of flaws and continuing to evolve as an individual. I suppose that’s the point, right? But I am more aware of myself and more engaged in my life than ever before. I am embracing ambiguity more than before and forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

The impact has been exceptional, both personally and professionally. Most notably, I relocated 8,000 miles away to Dubai, UAE for a full time teaching position  — just two short weeks after being offered the job(and having never before been to Dubai)!

Although Dubai is westernized in many ways, it has still provided me a wonderful opportunity to experience an entirely different culture than the one with which I was accustomed.

I am endeavoring to become the person who I should be, not who other people want me to be. I refuse to let others define me and decide for me.

I am doing this as much for myself as I am to show my two sons — whom I miss a great deal — that there is a world beyond the boundaries of the city in which they live. I want to inspire them to adventure by my actions. In the spirit of Robin William’s character in Dead Poets Society (John Keating) I embrace a philosophy of “Carpe Diem!”

I understand evolution is a process that happens  — wait for it — gradually. Ask Darwin: evolution is a transformational process that fundamentally changes something over a length of time, not a short period of time.  Just as I will never stop learning, I realize I will never be “done” evolving.

My evolution might have happened naturally as a function of maturity when I turned 40 earlier this year, but the process was was undoubtedly accelerated by the five years before it. While in the midst of the moment I was often overwhelmed with the challenges thrown my way, I now look back with gratitude for having been strengthened as a result.

Certainly you don’t have to go through what I did; you can find inspiration anywhere. If you need a little boost, however, you might enjoy reading the book “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin Zander. You might also find insight by completing the StrengthsFinder analysis; it was fundamental in helping me realize teaching was my perfect profession.

So, will you resolve to evolve in 2015?

Just a few hours after I took this picture on April 14, 2009 events transpired that would forever change my life.Two years ago yesterday I posted my last blog post.  A week later, I found myself (to paraphrase Buddy Holly) “learning the game.” A month later, an unexpected discovery revealed I was the one who had been gamed.

Without revealing too many details, this discovery delivered an exceptionally financially and emotionally expensive education on all sorts of dichotomies:

  • conditional love vs. unconditional love
  • co-parenting vs. parental alienation
  • espoused ethics vs. ethics-in-use
  • fact vs. fiction
  • faithful friendships vs. false friendships
  • honesty vs. dishonesty
  • legal ethics vs. legal procedures
  • moral certainty vs. moral relativism

I had previously assumed the events and behaviors I witnessed only happened in Desperate Housewives, LA LawLifetime Movie Network films, soap operas and The Twilight Zone. While you’re at it throw in some Benny Hill Show and Beverly Hills, 90210.

Despite my natural inclination to find the humor in my recent adventures, there is a very serious tone to it all. Given my profession as a teacher and trainer, these past two years have revealed to me an important nugget of knowledge that I express as follows:

‎”The toughest, but truest lessons we learn don’t come from a book; they come from the people, places, and predicaments in our lives.”

Sometimes those lessons involve heartache and sleepless nights, but hopefully we emerge as more complete individuals. Trying times can reveal the worst of people, yet they can also reveal the benevolence of others. It quickly becomes clear who you can trust and who really cares about you when you are in your time of greatest need.

I am endeavoring to move forward from my experience and leave behind me the distractions and drama that filled the past two years of my life.

With storm clouds clearing, I am looking ahead to a positive new future on a wide open ride of life! While I won’t use the word grateful, I do feel that these past two years helped me to grow and mature in ways that would not have happened otherwise. My recent experience  is a tool with which I will build an exceptional new life.

I will also remain deeply involved with the two most important parts of my past life who are also the center of my present and future life: my sons Jacob and Max.

On a practical level, my “enrollment” in this endeavor has prevented me from updating this blog as frequently as I would have liked while also impacting my plans to pursue a PhD as I had originally planned.

I am reminded of the following words by Langston Hughes:

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore– And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

I refuse to let my PhD dream “dry up, fester, stink, get crusty, sag or explode.” Quite the opposite: once the dust settles I will focus forward on a doctoral program that will provide me with the skills to produce research while ensuring my success as college professor

Likewise, I will begin posting to this blog again.  It might take a few posts to get the rust out but I look forward to once again actively engaging in an educational and informational dialog.

Onward and upward!

theta-chi

It’s all Greek to me.

My college fraternity, Theta Chi, was founded on April 10, 1856 at  Norwich University in Norwich Vermont by two undergraduate military cadets: Frederick Norton Freeman and Arthur Chase.  137 years later — on February 7, 1993 — I was one of 56 undergraduates who founded what became the Theta Sigma chapter at UC Santa Barbara on March 4, 1994. Sadly, the chapter closed in the mid 2000’s.

As an undergraduate, I embraced the opportunities presented and served my chapter as Historian, Secretary, and, my personal favorite role, Chaplain. I also participated in local, regional, and national events. I embraced the opportunity with enthusiasm; interestingly, my fraternity experience was a uniquely entrepreneurial endeavor.

I am keenly aware of how important my four undergraduate years with Theta Chi Fraternity were. The activities I participated in taught me important lessons that gave me a competitive advantage over individuals who were not involved with the Greek system; the seven skills my involvement with Theta Chi taught me include:

1. Time Management Skills

From appointments to meetings, deadlines to simple errands, each of us has far too much to accomplish in the few short hours available to us each day.  College life is no different, in fact in many ways it is more complex.

In addition to contending with the basics (e.g., laundry, bills, groceries), college students must also contend with the far less predictable rigors of academia.

For fraternity and sorority members time is stretched even thinner.  With weekly chapter meetings, committee meetings, participation in Fraternity-Sorority Council events, philanthropic endeavors, house maintenance duties, and other time commitments, we have a great deal to contend with on a daily basis.  However, I believe that my fraternal experience taught me the modern art of prioritizing.

In order to win the war against time, the powers that be invented the (infamous) Day Planner, the modern day equivalent to a sidearm.  Although I now use this scheduling device on a daily basis, during my years as an undergraduate member of Theta Chi, I was constantly forced to balance my numerous fraternal, academic, and personal commitments in a similar fashion.

When I served on the Executive Council, effective time management skills were absolutely essential, as they are now, in the real world.  Through my involvement with Theta Chi, I learned the value of prioritization.  Because of this skill, I fulfilled all of my responsibilities, while graduating a quarter early, with honors.

2. Communication Skills

During my four years with Theta Chi, I served in a variety of positions that required an ability to effectively communicate, however, none were as demanding as Chapter Secretary.  During these two important years, I strengthened my ability to not only express my thoughts clearly through written media, but I also developed a powerful oratory ability.

My position also required that I maintain an open line of communication with our International Headquarters and National Officers who expected a high level of professionalism at all times.  Now, as an employee in a corporate culture, I am able to apply the professional communication skills I learned while an undergraduate during my daily interactions with everyone from my immediate supervisor, to the President of the company.

My fraternal experience also gave me the opportunity to improve my ability to effectively socialize and network with a broad cross-section of people.  Although a strong command of the written word is essential to success in business, perhaps the foundation upon which any business transaction rests, is verbal communication.

A recent survey of large corporations indicated that an ability to effectively communicate verbally is the most important quality an employee can possess. The importance of verbal communication is perhaps most evident during the critical interview process, when it becomes your responsibility to intelligently expound upon your written resume.  You may have the best credentials in the world on paper, but if you cannot convey your abilities verbally, you will most likely encounter difficulty in any real world scenario.

Hashing during membership recruitment, general chapter meeting, and elections, whether you are running for office, or simply participating in the process, are all perfect opportunities to develop your public speaking acumen. Furthermore, the success of your fraternity or sorority depends upon the active participation of its members, and communication is the foundation upon which participation can grow.

3. Collaborative Skills

Dedication to teamwork is an essential trend within corporate America, presenting a member of a fraternity or sorority a valuable personal marketing tool.  After all, the point of the Greek system is to mold a disparate group of individuals into a cohesive body, committed to the fulfillment of a common objective, as defined by the Ritual.

An effective Ritual stimulate its members individual talents while also reminding them of their commitment to something far larger than themselves. Through the Ritual, a member of a fraternity or sorority will hopefully develop an understanding of their own potential in relation to the needs of the group (society) of which they are a part.

A positive fraternity or sorority experience allows a member to try new things and, by doing so, nurture preexisting talents and discover an impressive latent ability. From something as mundane as By-Laws, to an event as pivotal as the performance of the Ritual, a fraternity or sorority allows its members to sample new things, within a relatively sheltered environment.

Furthermore, the communal living structure of a fraternity or sorority teaches its members to peacefully coexist with people who are often very different than them, but again, are bonded together by a common vision (the Ritual).  An ability to get along with a diverse cross section of individuals is absolutely critical to success in the real world, and, more specifically the corporate world.

As much as we hope for personal success, we also must stop and realize that we are also parts of a greater whole.  Because of this, it is important to remember that our actions affect more than ourselves, and our success often relies on the work of others. The balance between individual achievement and a responsibility to your God, your country, and your fellow man, is a precarious one, but is one that can most effectively understood through involvement in a fraternity or sorority.

4. Social Skills

Fraternities and sororities were started with the hope that through a system of values (the Ritual), members could improve themselves, their brothers or sisters, and humanity. Although the methods of our Rituals differ, the messages most likely revolve around the following concepts:

1. Respecting other people’s views, opinions, possessions, and  rights.

2. Creating positive results for ourselves, our fraternity, and our community.

3. Taking accountability for our personal actions and those of our brothers.

4. Realizing a need, problem, opportunity or deficiency, and resolving it.

These easy to understand, yet powerful values represent the cornerstone of every fraternity or sorority.  And, not surprisingly, they are a vital part of every business and personal encounter in the real world.  Anyone who understands and practices these four concepts will be an asset to any company. Motivation, dedication, and innovation are by-products of any fraternity or sorority, and are the essence behind real world success.

Further, just as our own organizations have Standards Boards and  Codes of Conduct that hold us accountable for our actions, house maintenance duties that teach responsibility, and methods of soliciting participation, so do all successful business, and, in a less formal way, all families.  Without an awareness of these four important values, anyone will most likely encounter trouble in their future endeavors, personal and professional.

5. Competitive Skills

Greek Week festivities, participation in Intramural sports, attendance at local, regional and national fraternity or sorority events, undergraduate (and alumni) involvement with collegiate activities, and a strong presence of fraternal spirit are all ways in which you can increase your potential for success in the real world, while having fun in the process.

The power of fraternal spirit and a healthy desire for competition should not be underestimated.  As Charles Darwin so effectively realized, only the strong survive.  And what better way to ensure your survival in a highly competitive society than by getting involved in a wide spectrum of activities, either through your place of employment or beyond the walls of your office.

You will not only meet new people, experience new things, but you could pave the way for future success. Additionally, employers are constantly on the lookout for energetic, motivated individuals, whose effusive personality more than compensates for their lack of experience. Credentials get you to the door, personality can get you the corner office.

6. Adapting Skills

During my undergraduate years in Theta Chi, it was rare when a day went by without some element of “the great unknown” affecting it.  Although we tried to plan events so they would run smoothly, inevitably, something always interfered with this simple goal.

While it is essential for a fraternity or sorority to maintain an organized infrastructure, any Greek organization must be able to quickly respond to a rapidly changing environment.

Again, life in the real world is no different.  I re-prioritize my project list on an almost daily basis in response to the constantly changing, and often unpredictable needs of “Upper Management.” During the past year, there were at least a half dozen times when I was almost finished with a project only to have it suddenly fall by the wayside, in deference to a more urgent project. As frustrating as this situation is, because of my fraternal experience, I can rapidly adapt to a constantly changing environment.

7. Professional Skills

Although college is a time of great individual liberties and personal discoveries, it is nevertheless a highly regulated experience.  From mid-term schedules, to term paper requirements, college students learn to function in a world with a great affinity for bureaucratic red tape.

Unfortunately, the paperwork jungle only gets more dense after graduation. However, a fraternity or sorority is an incredible resource through which a member can learn to function within a distinctively corporate hierarchy.  There are numerous positions within any company that are remarkably similar to those in a fraternity or sorority.

For example, almost every company has a CEO or President (Chapter President),  CFO (Treasurer), Documentation Manager (Secretary) Training Manager (Marshal/Pledge Educator), Marketing Manager (Rush Chairman), Environmental Health and Safety Manager (Risk Manager), to name a few.

Additionally, just as a fraternity or sorority experience begins with a pledge quarter, so too are (usually) the first three months of any job considered an introductory period.  Most companies also have a handbook, which functions very much like a Ritual.

There are also opportunities for career advancement in any place of employment (annual elections), performance reviews (membership reviews), facility maintenance (house cleanups), and company (chapter) pride.  The list of similarities is endless, and an astute member of the Greek community will capitalize on as many as possible.

In Closing

It is important to remember that there are an unlimited number of opportunities available to any fraternity or sorority member.  This article highlights only a small number of such opportunities. Fraternities and sororities empower their members to shatter John Stuart Mill’s claim that, “The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.” We should not be afraid to expect more from our affiliation with a Greek Letter Organization, in fact, it is our duty.  Only through an active participation in our Greek experience will you discover the key to unlock the doors of real world success.